Maliki flies out for talks as bombs kill 60

Posted in Iraq | 24-Jul-06 | Author: Ewen MacAskill| Source: Guardian (UK)

An Iraqi man is taken away from the site of a bomb blast in Sadr City, Baghdad.

· PM to discuss security with Bush and Blair
· More troops for Baghdad to boost clampdown

The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, left Baghdad yesterday for talks with Tony Blair and George Bush about deteriorating security, on a day when more than 60 people died in bomb attacks.

The US and Iraqi forces are to pour more troops into the capital over the next few weeks to shore up Mr Maliki's high-profile security clampdown, which has so far failed to reduce violence. Bombs in the main Shia district of Baghdad killed 42 civilians, while a blast in the northern city of Kirkuk killed at least 20.

Mr Maliki, who became prime minister two months ago, has said his government represents the last chance for Iraq. The Foreign Office says privately that it is about 50-50 on whether Mr Maliki can produce a semblance of order to prevent the country sliding into civil war and eventually breaking up into three parts.

The British ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, whose posting ends next weekend, told a farewell party hosted by the Iraqi government at the weekend that he was finding it hard to be optimistic as the new leadership struggled to control the violence. "I am a pessimist," he said, but added that he was "refusing to panic".

Although it was a private reception, some journalists were present. Reuters treated the reception as off-the-record, quoting him as "a senior western official" but a television journalist named him.

Mr Maliki is to meet Mr Blair today at Downing Street before travelling on to Washington to meet Mr Bush tomorrow. It is his first visit to both capitals as prime minister, though Mr Blair and Mr Bush have travelled to Baghdad since his appointment. As well as discussing security, he will ask both leaders for increased economic cooperation with Iraq.

Mr Maliki took office on a promise that he would try to establish conditions for an early US and British withdrawal from Iraq. The British army pulled out of one province this month, the first to be handed to Iraqi forces, but the violence and slow development of the Iraqi army and police have delayed the handover.

One of the bombs in Baghdad yesterday was near a police station and market in Sadr City, a densely populated and poor Shia neighbourhood. Some witnesses said it had been caused by a suicide bomber driving a minibus packed with explosives. An Iraqi army statement said 34 people had been killed and 73 wounded. Eight more people died and 20 were wounded when a second bomb exploded two hours later at a local government building, also in Sadr City.

Police in Kirkuk said a car bomb had detonated at midday near a courthouse in the city's market district, killing 20. The sectarian death toll is now outstripping those caused by the insurgency.